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World Heritage in Peril


A mosque in the Kurdish town of Tall Maruf, Syria, destroyed in Syria.

ISIL and other violent militant groups rampaging in Syria and Iraq are doing their best to erase the history of this, the cradle of civilization.

ISIL and other violent militant groups rampaging in Syria and Iraq are doing their best to erase the history of this, the cradle of civilization.

“ISIL is not only beheading individuals; it is tearing at the fabric of whole civilizations. It has no respect for life. It has no respect for religion. And it has no respect for culture, which for millions is actually the foundation of life,” said Secretary of State John Kerry:

“For the proud people of Iraq and Syria . . . . the destruction of their heritage is a purposeful final insult, and another example of ISIL’s implacable evil.”

ISIL has proudly trumpeted its destruction of many of the most historic monuments of Islamic architecture in Mosul, including the tomb of Nebi Yunus, also known as Prophet Jonah, which is sacred to Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

In Raqqa, ISIL bulldozed the colossal ancient Assyrian gateway lion sculpture dating back to the 8th century BC. They rob tombs and archeological sites and sell these ancient artifacts to finance their reign of terror. And they license other thieves of history to do the same, for a percentage of the profit.

These acts of vandalism are a tragedy for all civilized people, said Secretary Kerry.

“It’s not just that the forces of extremism threaten to take us back to the Stone Age. Extremists want to rob future generations of any connection to this past. That is profoundly what is at stake. And if you leave it unstopped, if you don’t stand up, we are all complicit,” he said.

For that reason, the United States is funding a landmark effort with the American Schools of Oriental Research to document the condition of cultural heritage sites in Syria and expanding the effort to Iraq as well. We also supported the publications of “red lists” of stolen Iraqi and Syrian artifacts to alert international customs authorities and stem the trafficking of these ancient treasures.

“It is imperative that we act now,” said Secretary Kerry. “We do so knowing that our leadership, the leadership of the United States, can make a difference and that the fight to protect the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria isn’t just about shared values. It’s about protecting a shared legacy.”

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